Olivia Prior’s life is a strange collection of missing and mismatched parts. The mute girl can’t, for instance, say things that others can, but she certainly sees things that others can’t.
Olivia sees ghouls—the decayed spirits of the dead that lounge around with missing jaw bones and other bits. She sees them in their partially-here state as they gaze soundlessly at the living world around them. In fact, these gray tattered spirits are as furtive and soundless as Olivia often is.
Olivia Prior is an orphan as well as a mute. And those parts of her make her an object of scorn and bullying at the Merilance School for Independent Girls. But those challenges have also, in their own odd way, made Olivia stronger and more observant. She stands strong against those who would hurt her. She practices looking at and drawing the world around her. And she’s learning sign language, even though no one else in the school can understand it.
Other than that, Olivia tends to focus a lot of her attention on her mother’s journal—the one small, green felt-covered thing that connects her to some semblance of a family: a most important missing part. She knows nothing about her mother, other than what’s found in those pages. Not even her name.
That odd little journal is full of inkblot illustrations and the rambling words and reminisces of a woman who was very obviously losing her grip on sanity. Olivia has memorized every aspect of the journal, from the exact shade of green on the cover to the elegant G scripted on its front. She’s spent years guessing at what that initial stands for: Georgina, Genevieve, Gabrielle?
Olivia studies this enigma of a book in hopes of piecing together something about her mother, about her father, and about why she has ended up in this gray and dismal place.
One entry in the journal, however, rings clear to Olivia. They are words that she’s sure her mother intended for her, for the page starts with, “Olivia, Olivia, Olivia,” written in a shaky scrawl. “Remember this—the shadows are not real,” her mother wrote.
Does that mean that Olivia’s mother saw the same spectral beings that she does? For it’s true that though those ghouls linger and watch, but they can’t touch or impact any living thing. And if Olivia looks directly at them, they flutter and fade away.
The entry goes on to say: “The dreams can never hurt you. And you will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant.” That part is more confusing. For one thing, Olivia never dreams. Her sleep is as empty as the gray skies hanging above Merilance. And what or where is a Gallant? Olivia reads those lines over and over and still never draws any closer to understanding.
Then one day, Olivia is called into the head matron’s office and handed a letter. It is addressed to her, from a relative she never knew existed: her uncle Arthur Prior.
I confess. I do not know exactly where you are.
I have sent these letters to every corner of the country. May this be the one that finds you …
The letter goes on to say that Olivia’s uncle Arthur had long sought after both her and her mother. And it ends with:
You are wanted. You are needed. You belong with us.
Those are words that Olivia never dreamed she would hear or read! There’s only one tiny problem: the address on the back of the envelope. This beautiful, wonderful, and totally unexpected dream of a letter comes from an estate called … Gallant.
Suddenly Olivia is left to decide which message, which part of her life, she will embrace, and which she will push away.
For some parts, whether mismatched or missing, aren’t meant to fit together.